During World War II, thousands of forced local labourers and Allied prisoners of war suffered and died constructing and maintaining the Thailand – Burma Railway. The railway spans 415 kilometres between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon (Yangon) in Burma (Myanmar).
Built by the Empire of Japan during World War II, the railway line was designed to support Japan’s forces in the Burma campaign. A railway route between Thailand and Burma had been surveyed at the beginning of the 20th century by the British government of Burma but the proposed course of the line — through hilly jungle terrain divided by many rivers — was considered too difficult to complete. In 1942, Japanese forces invaded Burma from Thailand and conquered it from Britain.
To maintain their forces in Burma (Myanmar), the Japanese had to bring supplies and troops to Burma by sea, through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. This route was vulnerable to attack by Allied submarines, and a different means of transport was needed. The obvious alternative was a railway. The Japanese started the project in June 1942 and intended to connect Ban Pong with Thanbyuzayat, through the Three Pagodas Pass.
Most of the construction materials for the railway line, including tracks and sleepers, were brought from dismantled branches of Malaya’s railway network. On 17 October 1943, the two sections of the line met about 18 kilometres south of the Three Pagodas Pass at Konkuita (Kanchanaburi Province) after which most of the POWs were then transferred to Japan. Those prisoners left to maintain the line still suffered from the appalling living conditions as well as Allied air raids.
The most famous portion of the railway is ‘Bridge 277’ over the Kwai Yai River, immortalised in the Pierre Boulle book and the film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai.’ The first wooden bridge over the Khwae Noi was finished in February 1943, followed by a concrete and steel bridge in June 1943. The Allies made several attempts to destroy the bridges, finally succeeding in destroying the structure on 2 April 1945.
Student Educational Adventures can design a tour to Thailand for your students that takes in the historically related sites of the Thail/Burmese railway. We can arrange for students to spend time at the confronting JEATH Museum, the Kanchanaburi Cemetry where may POWS are buried as well as a visit to Hellfire Pass. Hellfire Pass was dug by the British, Dutch and Australian prisoners of war who were forced excavate rock for this ill-fated section of the railway line.
We can also include a walk over the POW built Bridge on the River Kwai — popularised by the Hollywood Movie of the same name and take students on a train ride along the last remaining section of the rickety POW built railway line.
During a one or two-day program to the historical sites in Kanchanaburi Province, students will learn about terrible hardships endured by prisoners and the will to survive that led to some ingenious plans to thwart the Japanese and incredible survival tactics. Our specialist local guide will also tell stories of mateship and compassion from larger-than-life survivors including Sir Ernest Edward “Weary” Dunlop AC, CMG, OBE (1907-1993) an Australian surgeon renowned for his leadership while being held as a prisoner.
Get in touch today to find out how you can include a one or two- day visit to Kanchanaburi in your school’s Thailand tour itinerary.